Heather Davis Nelson, M.A., is a writer, counselor, and retreat speaker, regularly blogging at "hidden glory" (heatherdavisnelson.com). She has been a featured writer at The Gospel Coalition, iBelieve.com, and OnFaith with articles on grief, human trafficking, body image, and mentoring, as well as a contributing author to the Journal of Biblical Counseling. She and her husband, Seth, and their fraternal twin daughters live in southeastern Virginia where he is a pastor, and she is a counselor. She studied at Wheaton College (B.A.) and Westminster Theological Seminary (M.A.). She loves coffee, reading, front porch conversations, the beach, and story time with her daughters. Through over eight years of counseling, she has walked alongside many through questions of faith, anxiety and depression, relational conflict, grief, and discovering identity and calling. She is passionate about connecting the hope of a Redeemer to the broken fissures of life.
Today may be painful because you're grieving the father you never knew. The father you wish you had known, but whose absence leaves a hole in your heart and your life. A hole that you've tried to fill a thousand other ways but it always comes up short.
Your pain may be the absence of a father you knew and loved dearly and who is now gone. Whose death you grieve today most keenly. I've written about grief here, and I pray the God of all comfort will meet you in each avenue of sorrow you will walk through today as you know Him as Father and the ever-present one.
Or maybe the pain comes from a father who violated the protection and trust meant to be inherent in your relationship. Abuse of any sort - emotional, physical, or sexual - breaks boundaries established by God and leaves indelible pain, confusion, and deep wounds. Your journey feels long and hard and impossible and dark. You may not even be able to speak of what happened, and so you have to fake a "Happy Father's Day" to the man who violated you and did what should not be done. And this only adds insult to injury. I hurt for you and with you, and if you need a safe place to talk about this, find a trusted friend or counselor or pastor and begin to share this pain. Speaking about such things feels as if it will multiply shame, but that's the kingdom of darkness trying to keep you from coming into the light. When light shines in the darkness, the darkness cannot overcome it (John 1:5).
Then there are those of you who long to be fathers, and whether the delay is due to waiting for marriage or waiting through infertility, this day is a painful reminder of what you (or your spouse) are not yet.
Some of you have a combination of what I've mentioned already, and so the hurt is multi-faceted and often complicated grief. Such as grieving the death of an abusive father. Or a feeling of fear and dread as you watch your husband becoming abusive in ways your own father was to you. Or celebrating a wonderful father while wondering whether you or your husband will ever become one.
And then there's the frustration of waiting for your husband to step up and be the kind of father you had or that you pray he would be for your children. Perhaps you found yourself reading the greeting cards and wishing they were actually true. You feel disappointed and you wonder if and when he'll ever change.
As you grieve today, I want you to know that you're not grieving in silence and you're not grieving alone. Not only do I (and many, many others) acknowledge your pain, but we want to walk with you through it. And even if today passes without any other acknowledgement of the burden you carry, there is One who sees. Who meets you even now, carries your grief for you; atones for the sin committed against you; is the perfect and present Father you long for or miss or never had. He is the one who met a slave-woman and her son when they'd been cruelly abandoned by her mistress and were languishing in the desert, expecting to die. Hagar's name for this God in Genesis 16:13?
You are the God who sees me.
On this day when you will see all of the Facebook and Instagram posts celebrating fathers and painting pictures of beautiful Pinterest-worthy brunches and picnics and barbecues; on this day when you will feel as if you are not seen or known; take comfort that there is a God who sees you. Who sees your pain and your grief and your brokenness. He sees you, and his seeing brings healing, comfort, and light into darkness. I can't promise the pain will be less, but I know a God who promises his presence with his people in times of distress. And he is the one from whom all the best earthly fathers derive their name. He is the one Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 -
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies
and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction ...
And here's one last thought. All of the images of perfect families with perfect fathers you'll see today through posted pictures, at church or the brunch restaurant or your next-door neighbors - well, they're not as perfect as they seem either. And in fact they could be well-constructed masks to cover pain that might be more similar to yours than you know. Take courage to tell your story, whether beginning today or tomorrow; whether with one friend or in a more public sphere; whether in person or email or a blog. Your story will remind others that they, too, do not grieve alone. And you may even be able to put words to what someone else could never express until they read or hear what's on your heart.